Organic Conversion and Local Purchase PoliciesThe local elected officials of rural Woodbury, Iowa had no idea they would attract the national spotlight when they became the first in the nation to mandate that county food service programs must purchase organic, locally grown foods when available. The Local Purchasing Policy wasn't their first effort to support local farming. A year earlier in June 2005, the Board of Supervisors passed an Organic Conversion Policy which provides the county's farmers with a full property tax rebate for up to 500 acres of organic farming land. Together, these two policies represent real commitment to bolstering supply of and demand for locally grown, organic foods.

Protecting farmland, reducing pollution and promoting organic foods have a lot to do with health. But Woodbury's Director of Rural Economic Development, Rob Marqusee is the first to admit that he wasn't thinking about health when he began drafting policies to support local, organic farming. Looking at ways to spark economic vitality in the county, he was not content to sit back and wait for corporations to move in and buy up the land. He wanted Woodbury to take control of its own economic future. "I recognized that we didn't have the financial resources to be too creative with our economic development funds, but one financial tool I could leverage was taxes." The tax rebate given through the Organic Conversion Policy provides resources to local farmers to maintain their land and farm it in ways that are more sustainable than conventional methods and the Local Purchasing Policy stimulates demand for the products grown by local farmers. The Local Food Purchasing Policy, according to Mr. Marqusee "created an additional incentive (beyond the rebate) for farmers by creating a local market and a vehicle for farmers to become entrepreneurs."

The county mandate has proven to be a model for stimulating economic growth while reducing the risk to local farmers because county food services are required to buy locally first. Although there has been a great deal of public discussion about the price of organics, the county is starting to see the real value in buying locally and supporting local agriculture. The local community college now offers courses on organic farming using land that the county provided at no cost. Whole Foods Market buys locally through a farmers' market broker and the community is working with restaurants to facilitate local purchasing.

Woodbury County has entered into a partnership with the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce to attract organic processing firms to make their home in the area and purchase ingredients from local producers. Woodbury County has also obtained a United States Trademark, "Sioux City Sue" foods, to promote local processing of ingredients raised in the region. Woodbury is working on a new farm-to-school initiative where foods will be prepared at the church by community elders get delivered to the local school and a mobile market run by the Health Department delivers organic foods to rural communities.

In Woodbury County, policies to support local, organic foods have helped to tip the scales in support of more sustainable practices that have potential benefits not only for economic vitality, but also for the health of the community. Growing organic means that the farmers and the land they grow on are less exposed to pesticides and less reliant on genetically modified organisms and these practices, in turn can affect the water and air quality of the region. Greater reliance on local farming also means that food travels shorter distances before it arrives to the consumer that also means less pollution. Perhaps best of all, residents of Woodbury now have easier access to organic foods, including, fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables—key ingredients for healthy eating.

From: ENACT Local Policy Database